SLN! provides an easier passage to frugality, not an effortless one. For the checklists to work their magic, they require active use.
Let’s say the decidedly unfrugal Jane Dough consults the products buying checklist for twenty purchases in a row, but buys at retail only. Clearly, Jane doesn’t use the checklist, she simply reads it. Having fallen into this abyss of passivity, she should ask herself a key question: how do I dump my everyday habits so that I can enjoy real savings? The answer comes down to personal motivation, and this chapter lists various tactics that inspire just that. Naturally, they take the form of a handy checklist.
PRELUDE: TRUST THE PROGRAM
SLN! motivates automatically because the checklists appear right as—MOOOOOO!!!—you’re in the midst of spending. That’s the best time to review frugal strategies, because that’s when you’re most incentivized to follow them. If you ever need a reminder about the checklists’ many advantages, revisit the Introduction to the Spend Less Now! Checklists.
MOTIVATE WITH NUMERICS
Not everyone is a numbers person, but real time data delivers huge motivation even to those who dislike math. The designers of my Prius know this. The dashboard gives me precise figures on fuel efficiency in crystal clear graphics. When I pounce on the gas, I see my mileage plummet; when I release the pedal, I see it soar. The instant feedback motivates me to conserve. If you’re interested, you can get similar data about your progress with this program, and you can get it without crunching too many numbers. Design your SLN! dashboard to include these helpful metrics.
□ Keep a Checklist Savings Log
One of the best motivators is simply to track your progress. The sample log below shows some of my recent savings on products. (For my “savings annuities” on line items, see the chart in How to Use the Spend Less Now! Checklists).
Moose’s Savings on Products
|Description||Tactic Used||Cost Before||Actual Cost||Savings|
|1||20 hardbacks||Buy used||$ 500||$ 40||$ 460|
|2||Sleeper sofa||Floor model||$ 2,499||$ 1,899||$ 600|
|3||Sand wedge||Buy used||$ 60||$ 7||$ 53|
|4||BBQ cover||Repair||$ 55||$ 1||$ 54|
|5||Red Sox DVDs||Buy later||$ 80||$ 40||$ 40|
|6||Batteries||Generic||$ 54||$ 12||$ 42|
|7||Dry cereal||Eat oatmeal||$ 112||$ 41||$ 71|
|8||Laundry soap||Generic||$ 36||$ 18||$ 18|
|9||Toyota RAV4||Buy used||$23,000||$13,900||$ 9,100|
|10||RAV4 owner tax||Buy used||$ 455||$ 168||$ 287|
|11||Movies on web||FREE||$ 7||$ 0||$ 7|
|12||Bird food||Homemade||$ 8||$ 0.10||$ 8|
A couple of cautions about these logs. First, don’t buy more stuff simply to boost your reported savings. If this happens, you give yourself false assurances of economizing. Second, keep it real. You can say that you skipped a trip to Monaco this year, but if that was never in the cards anyway, don’t log it in as savings. Compare your actual cost to what you would have paid but for the checklists’ intervention.
□ Track Your Earnings Per Hour
The Introduction compared Jane Dough’s post-tax wages from her job ($780) to her checklist stockpile ($8,920!). The huge gap provides motivation aplenty, so perform the same calculation for yourself. Divide your total logged savings by the hours you’ve spent with the checklists. Compare the result to your hourly post-tax wages at work (these are incremental hours, so apply your uppermost marginal rate).
□ Track Your Net Worth
SLN! seeks to grow your “nest egg,” which in accounting terms is known as your “net worth.” Your net worth reveals much about your spending habits. If you consistently spend less than you make, your net worth tends to rise over time. If you consistently spend more than you make, it tends to fall. Net worth is easier to track than your household expenses. The reason? You have far fewer assets and liabilities (a mere handful) than expenditures (hundreds per year). Apply this formula:
TOTAL ASSETS – TOTAL LIABILITIES = NET WORTH.
Assets consist of everything you own that has value—things you can either cash out (as when you liquidate a bank account or cash value life insurance policy) or sell (stamp collections, farmland, jewelry, etc.). Liabilities consist of the amounts you owe to others. Here’s a breakdown:
$ _____ Checking accounts
$ _____ Savings accounts
$ _____ Home market value
$ _____ Other real estate value
$ _____ Brokerage accounts
$ _____ Retirement accounts
$ _____ Medical savings accounts
$ _____ Outstanding loans to others
$ _____ Cash on hand
$ _____ Value of life insurance
$ _____ Certificates of deposit
$ _____ Other assets (cars, jewelry)
$ _____ Total
$ _____ Mortgages
$ _____ Car loans
$ _____ Credit card debts
$ _____ Student loans
$ _____ Medical bills
$ _____ Other IOUs
$ _____ Total
If you want, use the above chart to track your net worth on a monthly basis. Alternatively, you can measure net worth with one of these online calculators:
□ Compete Against the National Averages
Compare your expenses on major line items to that of typical households in your income bracket (visit BLS.gov/cex). If you’re in the 75th percentile of household income, but spend like you’re in the 40th percentile, you save at an impressive rate.
□ Track Your Income and Expenses
Robert Frost once wrote “nobody was ever meant, to remember or invent, what he did with every cent.” Frost was right, but he lived before the internet. Nowadays, you can track your expenses automatically—and you don’t have to invent much of anything (Al Gore’s already done it for you). For details, read Chapter 50.
MOTIVATE WITH HOMERICS
If at heart you’re a poet and numbers make you break out in a rash, don’t worry. These tactics boost your motivation without the mess of mathematics.
□ Buddy Up
Any program of change delivers better results when you team up with others. For mutual support, join forces with friends, with fellow fringers at FrugalFringe.com, or with both.
If you’ve never visited a junkyard, flea market, or thrift shop—at least not recently—go explore a few. Audition restaurants, generic products, and online services. Test drive gasoline savers (Chapter 39)—not forever, but temporarily. As long as experiments bust up your routines at least some of the time, you nudge yourself to save.
□ Mix and Match
If you suffer from unfrugal habits but can’t give them up completely, you can still save if you blend in some frugal options. For instance, if you don’t want to quit your health club cold turkey, quit it gradually by buying occasional day passes as you transition to home workouts (see 10.1). If you don’t want to give up hotels entirely, give them up partially by staying a few nights of your next vacation at less costly alternatives (see 16.1).
□ Debrief Yourself
If hindsight truly is 20-20, gain some clarity with a detailed review of your latest checklist-assisted transactions. Ask yourself hardnosed questions like these:
□ Did I use the checklist actively or did I only read it?
□ What are the pros and cons of my final decision?
□ If this was mostly a bad decision, how can I fix it?
□ If this was mostly a good decision, how can I do better?
□ Leave Feedback
After you debrief, share your opinions with others. Tell friends. Post online reviews of products and services. This hones your spending savvy for future transactions.
□ Customize the Checklists
Another great tactic that follows from debriefings: revise the checklists to include your own ideas. Or build DIY checklists for any line item that your household incurs, but these pages don’t cover (see Chapter 48).
□ Try a Pay-Cation Stay-Cation
Jumpstart your SLN! experience with a vacation at home (see 15.1.2). Use it to reprogram your spending habits on whichever expenses concern you the most. As you save on airfares, you’ll also begin to save on a wide variety of other line items.
□ Set Goals
Some can motivate themselves with long range goals—pay off all debt in ten years, switch to part time work by age 40, retire fully by age 55—but most do better when they aim for shorter time horizons. Some sample objectives:
□ Cut this year’s total expenses by at least 20 percent
□ Save $8,000 by year’s end
□ Spend $60 less next month on utilities
□ Go without paid TV for six months.
Bottom line: set goals if that motivates you, but otherwise, don’t worry about it. SLN! doesn’t require precise objectives in order to produce major benefits. Instead, it reflects the reality that spending less is a brick-by-brick process—and you’re the mason of a solid financial future.